Summary: When the Word of the Lord is truly preached, the Lord of the Word is speaking. Are you listening?
“And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.”
Every once in a while we preachers get a reality check concerning just how well we are communicating and how well people are listening to the things we say from the pulpit.
That’s good. I think God allows these occasions to help us keep our edges honed; to keep us alert to the fact that we need to first be certain we know what we’re talking about ~ as Haddon Robinson said in his book “Biblical Preaching”, “…a mist in the pulpit becomes a fog in the pew” ~ and then once we’re certain what it is we want to say, or rather, what God wants us to say, then we are to be careful to say it clearly and as often as needed to make it understood.
I had one of these ‘reality check’ occasions very recently, and amazingly, it involved this very portion of scripture; a portion I had just that day been contemplating for this sermon.
I want to tell you that story, but first let’s take a look at this account in which Paul and Barnabas found themselves in a situation of having it brought sharply to their attention that their audience was very simply not on the same page as they.
Backing up to the beginning of chapter 14 we see that Paul and Barnabas have traveled to Iconium. Even though they were rejected by the Jews in Pisidian Antioch, they followed their custom and went first to the synagogue.
During His earthly ministry Jesus talked often of the many who would come from east and west to sit at His Father’s table. But as far as His own ministry was concerned, He came to His own. Salvation was offered first to the Jew, because God’s chosen people were to be the heralds of the good news to the nations.
“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” John 1:11,12
So Paul continued that focus, even though the Jews rejected his message. His gospel was always ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’.
Now I want you to notice that in verse 2 there is no comma after the word ‘Jews’. It doesn’t say “But the Jews, who disbelieved”, indicating that all of the Jews there disbelieved. It says “But the Jews who disbelieved…” leaving us to think that some of the Jews did believe. So let’s not forget that there is no religious or cultural or national group that is rejected from or rejecting of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Everyone makes the choice in his or her own heart to believe or disbelieve, and in every group there will be some on both sides of that fence.
That is made even clearer as we read down through these first 5 verses of chapter 14, and see that there were those of both groups, Jews and Gentiles, who were so offended by Paul’s preaching that they actually plotted together to stone these missionaries.
But they became aware of it, verse 6, and fled to Lystra and Derbe. Now please don’t think them cowards. It has been said that discretion is the better part of valor, and it is one thing to speak boldly for the sake of the Kingdom, and to be willing to suffer for Christ. But only a fool or someone with suicidal tendencies would hear the news that a large mob is getting ready to rip them apart, and then stand around to see what happens.
Furthermore, if you look at verse 21, you will see that after Jews come from Antioch and Iconium, following the Apostle all the way to Lystra and stoning him there, and after God raises him back up on that road and he goes back into Lystra and preaches some more, he then goes back to both Iconium and Antioch and strengthens the brethren in those cities! Coward? Not Saul of Tarsus!
And let it not escape your notice that although he had been rejected in those cities, churches had started there. God’s Word will not return to Him empty, believer, but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it out. (Isa 55:11)
Ok, so, going back to verse six, they had come to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region, and they continued the work they were commissioned for; preaching the gospel.
Keep that in mind, because in the following verses the gospel, per se, is not reiterated, but as we discuss the coming events it will be important to remember that it is Paul’s preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that they are hearing.